Compelling images are the star of the show on Instagram, but don’t overlook the attention-grabbing power of awesome captions.
A well-crafted caption draws your Instagram followers deeper into the story of your brand. It can be the difference between someone liking your photo and then just scrolling on and someone taking the time to visit your site to learn more about you. And because so many brands — even big ones — still overlook the power of captions, putting some extra effort to make yours special makes you instantly stand out.
The first Instagram account that made me realize the allure of great captions was Hey, Sweet Pea — aka Scott and Elise Grice. The Grices teach online classes for entrepreneurs on topics including writing, Instagram, and social media as a whole (and we love, of course, that their social media class includes Viraltag as a recommended tool). Their Instagram account makes clear they lavish equal attention on writing and images. That’s why I’m excited to share some of their insights for how to use words to tell your story on the photo sharing app.
But they’re not the only ones proving that writing wins on Instagram. Here are five things you can learn about how to use writing on Instagram from five Instagram rock stars.
1. Go long.
We tend to default to short, just-the-facts Instagram captions, but long ones — well-written ones, that is — can really set you apart. On Hey, Sweet Pea posts, the captions feel like personal letters. But Elise Grice says they didn’t always approach their Instagram captions that way.
“I actually remember the exact moment everything changed,” she says. “I shared a photo of my husband, Scott, standing in front of a beautiful cathedral. Instead of writing the ‘typical’ description, I wrote a caption that really spoke to what it felt like in that moment. The reactions to the post were so different than any of the reactions I’d received before. Someone even said the story made them cry. When I heard that, I realized the importance of using our descriptions to give our photos context and how powerful that combination could be. Ever since that point, I’ve written our captions — whether short or long — with the goal of moving people.”
Ready to experiment with longer writing yourself? The next time you post on Instagram, give yourself a little extra caption-writing time. What could you add beyond the basic information that will build the relationship between you and your audience?
2. Be a photojournalist.
Photographers who work for media outlets like newspapers and magazines don’t just take pictures; they’re also reporters in their own right. Washington Post staff photographer Jahi Chikwendiu, not surprisingly, shares amazing photos on his Instagram account. But take a look at all the additional details he includes in his captions to more fully tell the story behind each photo.
Some quick reporting can make your captions come to life for your Instagram followers. Sharing a behind-the-scenes photo of one your staff members is great; adding some background you learn from an impromptu interview (for example: “No wonder Kim fears no challenge in managing our office — she’s hiked the Grand Canyon three times.”) is even better.
3. Hone your ear for quotes.
Chances are, you probably already follow and love Humans of New York on at least one social media network. The combination of simple, yet character-revealing photos and well-chosen quotes from the photo subjects is addictive.
Creator Brandon Stanton wisely lets the quotes stand on their own and doesn’t embellish them. Especially if writing isn’t your thing, think about how you might follow the lead of HONY and let quotes from clients, customers or staff do the talking in your captions.
4. Create a voice.
On his popular (46,000+ followers) Instagram account, @tristanbogaard documents his bicycle tour through Europe. His breathtaking, light-filled photos give his account its visual signature. And he accompanies them with inspiring captions that match the mood of the photos. His captions and images work together seamlessly.
Choose a consistent writing style that partners with your visual style on Instagram, whether that means being sweet and poetic or lively and irreverent. But whatever approach you choose, both your photos and your captions should fulfill a larger goal, Elise from Hey, Sweet Pea says.
“I think the key here is to focus on what you want people, especially your dream clients, to feel,” Elise says. “A feeling can translate through both words and pictures, so that’s why it’s key to define that first. My goal with every single post is to make my dream clients feel something. Perhaps I want them to feel alive or awakened. Perhaps I want them to feel moved or inspired. Perhaps I want them to feel peace or encouragement. But I define that feeling first and craft my pictures and story to match.”
For more examples of Instagram accounts that really nail the union between words and pictures, Elise points to @sweet.ish, @aubreyyrenee, and @artandanthem — all of which belong to former Hey, Sweet Pea students.
5. Make words the star.
@iamhertribe has barely needed photos at all to amass an Instagram following of nearly 124,000. Photographer-artist-creative Danielle Doby uses the account to share words of wisdom styled in simple, black-and-white graphics that she expands upon in extended, poetic captions. Styled quotes that echo the feel of your photos could be a great way to beef up your Instagram feed. Go with words that are distinctively “you,” whether you create them yourself or borrow some famous quotes.
Sarah Beckham is a freelance writer and editor based in Austin, Texas.